- The Storm
Like a wish fulfilled, but unwanted, the clouds appeared in the northern edge of the sky just as the mid-day temperature peaked. With symphonic patience, the clouds darkened, grew tall, dark, until finally, in the distance, the ogre could be heard to roar in his cave. The ground winds blew steadily against the storm, heavy with the hot breath of the southern deserts. Within an hour from the first humble appearance of the cloud, all was dark, and the air slept where it stood.
- The Horses
Johnny, my mother’s old cutting horse, is buried in the vineyard. An evening thunderstorm caught him there but two weeks ago. Mom heard the bolt of lightening that killed him, and when she found him, moved the earth over his body. As the thunderhead’s tentacles reached towards us, we left off our planting of Orange Muscat, threw our tools in the truck, and I drove out to where the horses grazed-the farthest corner of the field. A loaf of day-old raisin bread, packed for just such a purpose, was used to lure the horses homeward. After Mom showed them a slice and hopped back in, I urged the truck forward and the horses ran after me in a beautiful, electric, cacophonous line. I watched them in the rear view as I drove under trees, along fences, and through the field until they were stored near the barn, munching happily on their raisin bread, safe from the lightening that my mother is certain hunts them.
The storm behaved like a chained dog. The thunder was ceaseless, and flash lightening blinked regularly through sky, but no rain came as a gift to the earth, no winds threatened the buildings and trees. I switched the flat tire on the car with a fresh tire and Mom had the boys take the laundry off the line. I loitered by the truck and listened to Finlandia on the radio, matching the swells and torment of the music to the humble movements of the ducks, chickens, and goats. Every living thing waited for the chain to break, and the dog to be upon us.
- The Mulberry Tree
On the west edge of the vineyard grows an enormous mulberry tree. As I drove out to retrieve our grazing horses, the truck brushed one of its branches, creating a minor shower of ripe berries. I recalled this half-forgotten scene as I paced impatiently underneath an angry, impotent sky. Also in the west, the storm could be seen in action, sweeping earthward in strong dark streaks of rain. Coffee tin in hand, I left the house and walked out to the vineyard, through the vines, and to the border of our land. Every third berry was ripe, and the tree towered twenty feet over me. To harvest the mulberries, I had only to touch the small fruit once, and the stem broke, toppling it into my tin. Swallows fought the winds high above the ground. Cicadas, lured by the darkness spread by the clouds, came out to sing early. Lightening bugs flew low and mimicked the violence of the storm gently in the grasses. All of my fingers, save both pinkies, were stained purple by the time I had gathered half a tin of mulberries. Another wind arrived, cool and urgent from the west: the rain’s herald. I heard the downpour march across our neighbor’s fresh cut wheat field and then it swallowed me. The swallows took refuge in trees. The lightening bugs turned out their lights. The cicadas ground out their song like a cigarette. And I, with a lunatic grin, ran towards the house with my half-filled coffee tin of mulberries, leaping over the electric fence, dodging the drinking vines, arriving drenched and giddy at the trailer. Dripping, I stood inside the trailer with the door open, and breathed enormously the smell of the earth opening to the sky, the coolness of their ardor, enjoying, one at a time, the mulberries.
When the trees have not their leaves, the sunset can be viewed with pleasure from anywhere on the farm. However, in the summer, I must leave the hill on which the trailers, sheds, outbuildings and barn stand, all shaded by elms and osage orange and cottonwoods, and venture out to the vineyard. The day’s first storm was brief, and had moved on by the time the sun began its death walk. A distant western cloudbank wrapped the sun in royal purple and sent out a crown of rays: a perfect hosanna. To the south, another cloud bank hovered in grotesque majesty, the lowest fists of it caught the sunlight and burning a peach fire. The rest of the cloud, visibly stroked by fingers of wind, was dark to the edges of indigo. After the sun had gone silent, the cloud was the color of coal, and I stood in the field beneath it, small as plankton drawn up towards the whale.